Mountain Biker Jumping through woodland

Beginner mountain biker tips shared by mountain biking experts!


Firstly, I want to welcome you to one of the best sport ever! And to tell you that yes, almost everyone was as nervous as you before they began. And no, it does not seem natural to huck yourself down a mountain full of rocks and tree roots but it is OH SO WORTH IT.

Mountain biking is as exhilarating as it is terrifying. Every time you jump on that bike, you’ll find a new challenge and experience a new high. But with a sport as demanding as mountain biking, you need to equip yourself with the basics before attacking the awesome downhill trails.

These nine mountain biking tips will help you gain the confidence and ability to adventure deeper into the realm of MTB.

Male mountain biker on dirt track
Putting the tips into practise

1. Look Where You Want To Go

Let’s begin with the most crucial tip… look where you want to go! It is far too easy to fixate on the object you’d like to avoid right in front of your tyre but this approach is a dangerous habit. Let me tell you why…

Your body naturally follows your gaze, so, if you’re staring at a hazard, chances are you’re going to hit that hazard. You need to scope your line and prepare for what lies ahead. In order to do this, shift your gaze further down the trail, focusing on the route you want to take – the one that avoids the hazard.

This not only prepares you for oncoming sections but it also allows you to avoid fixating on the hazards immediately in front of you because in your mind you’ve already passed them. This opens your perspective to the complete environment around you and allows you to ride in a proactive state.

As a beginner mountain biker, when you progress and begin picking up speed, you’ll find your vision continuously focuses further and further ahead.

Mountain biking over tree routes
Make sure to keep looking ahead!

2. Don’t Sit Down

When you’re attacking a downhill section, stand up. For one, your butt will thank you and secondly, you’ll have exponentially greater control.

Standing allows your body to react and absorb the obstacles, letting the bike move freely beneath you.

3. Heels Down

Let me guess, your greatest fear when standing up and hurtling down a hill is sending yourself over the handlebars? No? Well, it was my greatest fear anyhow.

To help avoid this, keep your heels down. This action will help prevent your feet from slipping forward off the pedals when navigating gnarly terrain. In turn, your body will be encouraged to shift its weight over the rear tyre, a mighty bonus when descending on a mountain bike.

Female mountain biker on dirt track
Keep those heels down!

4. Body Positioning

This brings me to our next MTB tip: your body position when attacking those epic descents. There’s a term many mountain bikers like to use, and that’s the ready position. This is the stance you take when you’re about to tackle a descent.

We have already talked about a couple of techniques that come with the ready position but there is more to it than standing up and keeping your heels down….

Let’s break it up into sections…

Push your bum back: You want your handlebars to be the first part of you and your bike down the trail. Think of it as if you’re entering the unknown and you’d rather sacrifice your bike than yourself, making sure your bum is behind the seat allows your head to stay behind the bars. This is the best way to ensure your weight is distributed perfectly over the bike.

The steeper the hill, the further back your bum should be.

Keep your knees wide: I am guilty of trying to death grip the bike’s frame with my knees on a few occasions, but let me tell you, it is not a good idea and only ends badly! Widening your stance allows for greater balance and lateral weight distribution.

Think of when you’re trying to stand as sturdy as possible, are your feet together or apart? For the exact same reason, your knees should be as far away from each other as comfortably possible.

beginner mountain biker turning a corner
Nice, solid body positioning

Have a wide grip: For beginner mountain bikers this might feel unnatural, especially if you’re branching into mountain biking from road cycling, but widening your grip increases your leverage over the handlebars, making it far easier to manipulate the bike’s direction. And with this ease of movement, you’ll be able to correct mistakes efficiently and control the bike with confidence.

Keep your elbows bent: The biggest mistake people make when widening their grip is to try and tuck their elbows into their chest. This is a big no-no. Instead, get those elbows out as far as you can. This stance increases stability and encourages correct posture.

When your elbows are bent in an almost ninety degree angle, your back will automatically straighten and your bum will stick out as a result. This is a good thing.

Lower your centre of gravity: Keeping your weight low increases stability and balance. To do this, pivot your hips back, sticking out your bum. Never bend your back!! This is a common mistake and one that can lead to injury.

Mountain bikers tend to hunch their back when fatigue sets in. This is something you must consciously fight. Be aware of how you feel and take a break if you begin to hunch instead of pivot.

Just like a well-oiled machine, if you bend your elbows, keep your knees wide and your head behind the handlebars, your hips will naturally pivot backwards (sticking your bum out) and your knees will bend. This will enable most of your weight to be on the rear tyre, allowing the front of your bike to move freely without added weight.

Mountain biking girl go over mu
Bent elbows, pistol grip

5. Apply The Pistol Grip

Always ride with one finger on each brake. Keep the index finger hovering over the brake while the rest of your fingers and thumb curl around the bars. We call this the pistol grip. Utilising this technique allows you to be ready for anything the trail throws at you.

A bad habit to get into is having too many fingers on the brake. I’m sorry to tell you this will not increase your stopping power, it will only lessen your control over the bike. It may be a difficult concept to grasp, but one finger is more than enough to apply full braking force.

6. Brake Before the Obstacle

I’m guessing if you’re dipping into the wonderful world of mountain biking that you’ve mastered the skill of actually riding a bike? And so you’ll know that trying to stay on your bike when it isn’t moving is a hell of a lot harder than when it is moving.

The same concept goes with braking when you’re on top of an obstacle. The forward motion of your bike is what assists you with balance and stability. If you then brake when you’re trying to clear an obstacle, all that precious balance will be lost.

Therefore, slow down, using both brakes together, to a speed that you’re comfortable with to attack that tricky section beforehand. This will allow you to roll through with no worries, just the epic feeling of adrenaline.

Don’t get me wrong, this is an extremely nervewracking practice – one that I am guilty of failing from time to time – but it will improve your riding and confidence ten fold.

In those hairy situations, once you’re on top of the obstacles and freak out, make sure to only use the rear brake. Grabbing a handful of the front brake will cause you to fly over the handlebars… not an ideal situation I must say. But applying a bit of pressure to the rear brake will allow you to slow slightly without flinging you from your beloved bike.

There is a whole lot more on how to brake and how it makes you a better mountain biker. This post on braking correctly dives deeper into the technical side.

Mountain biking through the woods
As you can imagine, braking is pretty damn important

7. Get Loose

We’ve talked about standing up on descents and obtaining the ready position to absorb the obstacles in your way. Now we go one step further: getting loose. Use the ready position as just that, a position setting you up for what’s to come.

The best tip for mountain biking loose is to treat your body and your bike as two completely separate objects. You want your bike to fly down the trail, nipping in-between rocks and roots, while your body counterbalances these actions.

Generally, your body will maintain an upright posture – applying a downward force to your tyres – while your bike manoeuvres freely beneath you. This may seem weird and unnatural but it’s the best way to maintain maximum grip and balance.

Mountain biker in air from dirt jump
keep calm!

8. Don’t Freak Out

Easier said than done, I know! But one of the biggest beginner mountain bike tips is staying calm and relaxed to ensure your mind is as ready as your body.

And not just in terms of your riding, don’t freak out when you hear a rider approaching. If they have the ability to catch you, they’ve got the ability to slow down. The worst thing you can do is brake suddenly and swerve off the trail. This will only cause either a collision with the ground or the other rider, and we don’t want that! Wait for the nearest open section where you can safely move off the trail and let the rider pass.

Trust me, 99% of people don’t mind slowing down for beginner riders. Mountain biking is a friendly sport, full of others who love seeing newbies having a red hot crack.

9. Wear The Pretty Butt Pads

The piece of beginner mountain biking gear I’d highly recommend is padding for your bum. You’ll become aware of bones you had no idea existed once you finish a few days on the trails. It hurts. There’s no sugar-coating it. But padding makes a world of difference… and isn’t big butts in right now? Winning!

Ok, on a serious note. If you’re in the market for mountain bike specific shorts, purchase ones that come with padded liners (chamois pad) – it’s a life saver. Find them here in the UK or in USA.

Now that you’ve got the basic tips for mountain biking under your belt, get out there and shred those trails. But I will give you another piece of advice: find yourself a friend to mountain bike with.

Riding with others – especially those that are better than you – not only increases the fun but allows you to learn from them, and in turn, progress faster.

Now, get on your bike and embrace it!

Beginner Mountain Biker Tips pin
Pin me!

9 Tips Every Beginner Mountain Biker Needs To Know

These tips on mountain biking were shared by Candace and Dylan, the two Aussie adventurers behind Tracks Less Travelled, an adventure travel blog geared towards hiking and mountain biking.

They began Tracks Less Travelled to help inspire like-minded folk to move out of their comfort zone and push the boundaries of their lives.

If they’re not discovering new and intoxicating destinations to explore, they’re writing about them from their home on wheels.

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